real story behind Tom's "epaulets".
call to arms!
By Bernard Roth
of you who have seen the picture of Tom
Hill on the Iron
Wino page may be curious about Tom's "epaulets". Tom likes
to tell tall tales about his athletic prowess, how he captains a bowling
team, and all. But those of us who know him well know that Tom's talents
are better suited to captaining a forest fire evacuation, or for that
matter, any competition in which retreat is the better form of valour.
what is it with those "epaulets"?
he of an inventive, though off-kilter, mind, is quite the tale teller.
Unfortunately, his is not the real story behind those hideous shoulder
see, in 1967, Tom Hill was a down on his luck actor relegated to playing
bit parts in small town dinner theaters and walk-on extra roles in TV
commercials. He went through many stage names, but in the SAG he was
listed under the name Jim Doonan. One day, a letter from Paramount
Pictures shows up in his mail with the name James Doohan on the
envelope. Tom, still hung over from a night of serious Scotch (well,
come to think of it, in those days all of his mornings followed nights
of serious Scotch drinking) didn't note the subtle misspelling and
ripped that envelope open. The note told Mr. Doohan to be on the lot for
shooting starting at 0900 the following Tuesday. Somehow, the studio got
the wrong address because of the similarity in names, but that was all
the break Tom needed.
showed up at Paramount on schedule, the note getting him onto the set.
Apparently no one was the wiser until Gene Roddenberry asked why his
chief engineer wasn't on the set. Well Tom was red faced and bleary
eyed, like any good Scot would be at 0900 after a night of serious
Scotch, but he was no Scotty. However, they did need an extra.
while the real Scotty was rounded up, Tom was taken to wardrobe. It
wasn't exactly the lead role Tom had felt was his due, but he would get
to appear on a hit TV show, so he didn't object to the part.
what Tom didn't realize was that he'd only be shown from the shoulders
down. That's right! You never get to see Tom Hill's glowing mug on that episode.
But you do get to see his torso, covered in tribbles, during a brief pan
across the interior of the Enterprise.
kept that shirt, upon which were sewn a dozen or so tribbles. Over the
years, Tom would wear his Trekkie shirt, tribbles and all, to numerous
Trekkie conventions. There'd be Tom, sitting at a worn metal card table,
with a hand drawn poster board sign reading, "Famous Star Trek
Extra", chatting with the nerdy, pimply, shy kids who were too
scrawny and weak to push their way through the crowds attempting to
garner an autograph from someone truly famous, like Walter Koenig or the
real James Doohan.
whenever one of these pathetic loners would be wandering around
aimlessly, hoping to find a friendly sort to strike up some banal
conversation about Trek trivia, there'd be Tom calling out, "Hey!
Kid! Remember me? I was the guy covered in tribbles. See! I still got
some on my shirt. Come on over here. I'll let you pet them." Well
most of the kids were smart enough to listen to what their parents told
them about strange men. But occasionally one would take Tom at his word
and go talk to him about what it was like to be a faceless extra on Star
Trek. And out of the graciousness of Tom's heart, he'd give away one of
his tribbles, cutting it from his shirt and signing it on its, well...
um... wherever it is that tribbles have a bit of skin showing.
Over the years, after many Trekkie conventions and mostly being ignored, Tom finally gave up his stint as a famous ex-Star Trek extra. Down to the final two tribbles, attached at his shoulders, Tom leaves a legacy that is unparalleled in all of Trekkie-dom.